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The Reformation Herald Online Edition

No Ordinary Man

Reverence for the Almighty One
Names in the Bible

In the Bible, names had meanings attached to them. Sometimes one name was given to a child and when something changed in his/her life, the name was also changed. This was the case with Abram, which means “exalted father”—and when special blessings were given him it was changed to that of Abraham, which means “father of a great multitude” (Genesis 17:5, 6). Sometimes it was also changed because of an alteration in character, as in the case of Jacob—the supplanter or deceiver who was ultimately told: “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). The God that we worship also has a name and because He is Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Omnipotent, it is impossible to describe the name of our Creator with just a few terms. When He either changes His role toward us or reveals another facet of His marvelous character, He uses a new name to describe Himself: “I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by My name JEHOVAH was I not known to them” (Exodus 6:3).

The Eternal Deliverer

The true God had been known from the beginning of creation as El-Shaddai (God Almighty). But now He was about to reveal another of His many attributes by delivering them from slavery. It was only after experiencing deliverance personally could they truly call Him Jehovah (YHWH, often pronounced YEHOVAH.) (In most parts of the Old Testament in the KJV, whenever you see the word “Lord” in all capital letters, the original is known as Yehovah.) This was also a key as to why they were to keep the Sabbath. Notice what is added when the law is repeated after 40 years of wandering: “Remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15).

The verses preceding this speak of God creating the heaven and the earth; but now—through that same creative power—He delivers them out of Egypt. His creative power is used, not only to begin life, but to recreate it and have it begin anew. This same principle is brought to view when we speak of conversion from spiritual Egypt (sin). “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10. Why is this? What does true conversion bring about? “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Since God brought them out of Egypt through this power, and since they were to experience this power in a totally different way than any of their predecessors, He revealed to them a new facet of His character and called himself Jehovah (YEHOVAH), meaning the Self-Existent or Eternal One. Because of this power to save from sin, “I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11). In this case, the LORD that is speaking is Christ Himself because “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Today people may resist—but ultimately, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). Recognition will finally come to its rightful place.

Is mere pronunciation the key?

The verse mentioning several of God's names at once has been popularized by Handel's Messiah: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). But it is actually not limited to this brief list! As a further example: Immanuel, Holy, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, Jesus, just to name a few more. (See also Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:21, 23; Isaiah 57:15; Jeremiah 23:6.) And when all is said and done, He will receive a new name commemorating His victory in the great controversy. (See Revelation 3:12.)

When we are speaking about the name of the living God that we worship, we are not necessarily talking about exact pronunciation because we have already seen that God changes His name according to the need or to a new revelation of Himself. We can see this clearly when the writers of the New Testament wrote the names of Deity—whether of the Father or the Son, they did not keep to the traditional Hebrew names. Instead of Elohiym they used Theos for God and instead of Yehowshuwa or Yehowshu`a they used Iesous for Jesus. The gospel was to go to the Gentile world and new names were given accordingly just like when they left Egypt. In this case, they were the best translations for those names. These New Testament names were given by divine inspiration.

The use of the New Testament name of Jesus was powerful in changing character or giving physical healing. We see this in the case of that lame man who was in the temple begging. “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” The immediate response to the name of Jesus was tremendous. “And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3:6–8). What a tremendous response to the name of Jesus, the name of Deity! Some people therefore thought that the name of Jesus was like some magical charm. They assumed that all you have to do is pronounce it properly and it could do wonders. But not so. “Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth” (Acts 19:13). We can read the rest of the story in Acts and see that it was not the pronunciation of the name that made the difference. Even when they pronounced the name correctly they were beaten by the devils themselves through the possessed man.

We can expect the same to happen in the last days. “And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach” (Isaiah 4:1). It is not enough to have a name or to pronounce the name correctly. “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22, 23). Can you imagine Him saying “I never knew you” to a people who were full of good deeds and claimed to be Christians?

What actually can make the name of our Saviour so powerful? Jesus continues by giving an experience that indeed results in the establishment of a person for eternity—depicting the solid basis of those who build their spiritual foundation upon the rock of His word (Matthew 7:24, 25). The name of God is not in terminology but rather refers to the development of character. This is why it was character that the Lord proclaimed to Moses when showing him His glory, declaring: “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy” (Exodus 33:19; 34:6, 7). It was this meaning of the name when we read that “then began men to call upon the name of the LORD” (Genesis 4:26).

Using God's name in vain

Because of such power in the name of deity, what became a part of the Ten Commandments? “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). This is further clarified by adding also not to profane it. “And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:12). Quite a few points are listed in these two verses:

(1) Respect whenever we are speaking His name.

(2) When in a court of law not to swear by His name to defend falsehood.

(3) And not to use it in a bad way.

In Leviticus there is record of a young man whose mother was of the tribe of Dan. He blasphemed God's name and cursed Him. After requesting God's guidance in this matter, what was the final conclusion? “And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death” (Leviticus 24:1, 16). The problem with human nature is that we get very angry when we do not get our own way. We may manifest it in different ways, but it is still anger. And once we are angry we tend to use our words to convey that anger. As in the case in the wilderness, the young man used words to curse God to show his anger—and you know the results. “Swearing, and all words spoken in the form of an oath, are dishonoring to God. The Lord sees, the Lord hears, and He will not hold the transgressor guiltless. He will not be mocked. Those who take the name of the Lord in vain will find it a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” 1

“Burning words of passion should never be spoken, for in the sight of God and holy angels they are as a species of swearing.” 2

Sometimes we don't use bad language necessarily or curse God, but we use His name lightheartedly to become our witness in trivial matters. But Jesus tells us to be careful with our language. “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matthew 5:34–37).

By making reference to swearing, Jesus is not speaking here of the judicial oath. At the judgment hall Jesus was silent to all the accusations until placed under judicial oath when the high priest declared, “I adjure thee” in Matthew 26:63. The Lord's messenger explains, “I saw that the words of our Lord, Swear not at all,' do not touch the judicial oath.” 3 “It was shown me that it was no violation of God's word, when it is actually necessary, for His children when called upon to testify in a lawful manner, to solemnly take God to witness that what they say is the truth, and nothing but the truth. . . . And I saw if there was anyone on earth who could consistently testify under oath, it is the Christian.” 4

“This commandment not only prohibits false oaths and common swearing, but it forbids us to use the name of God in a light or careless manner, without regard to its awful significance. By the thoughtless mention of God in common conversation, by appeals to Him in trivial matters, and by the frequent and thoughtless repetition of His name, we dishonor Him. Holy and reverend is His name' (Psalm 111:9). All should meditate upon His majesty, His purity and holiness, that the heart may be impressed with a sense of His exalted character; and His holy name should be uttered with reverence and solemnity.” 5

What about the thoughtless repetitions of the name of God when we are praying? “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew 6:7). This is not just speaking about repetitive sentences but also the name of God Himself. “Reverence should be shown also for the name of God. Never should that name be spoken lightly or thoughtlessly. Even in prayer its frequent or needless repetition should be avoided.” 6 “I saw then what faint views some have of the holiness of God, and how much they take His holy and reverend name in vain, without realizing that it is God, the great and terrible God, of whom they are speaking. While praying, many use careless and irreverent expressions, which grieve the tender Spirit of the Lord and cause their petitions to be shut out of heaven.” 7

What is the worst method of using the name of God in vain? “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Revelation 3:1). Professing religion while living contrary to it is the greatest reproach on the name of God. Speaking to unconsecrated youth but applying to all: “Their unconsecrated lives are a reproach to the Christian name; their example is a snare to others. They hinder the sinner, for in nearly every respect they are no better than unbelievers. They have the word of God, but its warnings, admonitions, reproofs, and corrections are unheeded, as are also the encouragements and promises to the obedient and faithful.” 8

We need a heart change, not just a word change. Some feel like saying vain words—so instead of saying God's name in vain, they substitute words. Some common substitutions according to the dictionary are as follows:

a. goodness: “God: used alone or with other words in various emphatic or exclamatory utterances: Goodness knows; for goodness' sake.”

b. gee : “An exclamation expressing mild surprise, sympathy, etc.: a euphemism for Jesus. Also gee whiz.' ”

c. gosh: “An exclamation expressing surprise, awe, etc. [Euphemistic alter. of God].”

“O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29).

Reverencing His name

What is God's promise regarding His name among His own people? “And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:27). We have learned many things about the name of the Creator God who changes hearts. When His name is placed upon His people, they are especially blessed.

The same will be in this last generation. “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads” (Revelation 14:1). We are obviously not speaking about a literal name being inscribed on the forehead of each individual. Rather it is that character that is finally developed by this special people in the last days. In the midst of a time when people are flocking to worship the beast and his image and to receive the name of the beast upon them, here are a people that would rather sacrifice everything to have the Father's name in their foreheads. “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).

“Ministers, by carelessly introducing the name of God into their conversation, may teach lessons of irreverence. By mingling His holy name with common matters, they show that they are not spiritually-minded; for they mingle the sacred and the common. They are not living up to their holy profession.” 9

What about the terms we use for those in leadership positions? “According to the teaching of the Scriptures, it dishonors God to address ministers as Reverend.' No mortal has any right to attach this to his own name or to the name of any other human being. It belongs only to God, to distinguish Him from every other being. Those who lay claim to this title take to themselves God's holy honor. They have no right to the stolen word, whatever their position may be.” 10

We have lost the sacredness of the name of God and our own place in the whole scheme of things when we take titles that do not belong to us. “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.” The special role for members of the church as well as their leaders is that of brethren. Instead of titles that call out special honors that we would normally give to Deity, we are called to a different role—that of brethren. The highest place in Christ kingdom is that based on service to others. “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:8–11). Minister, pastor, these are terms of service and can be appropriately used.

Eternal life

What is the only Bible definition of eternal life? “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). How do you get to know the One Whom we cannot see until we truly become like Him? (See 1 John 3:1–3.) In His love and mercy God sent Someone into this world to do just that. By taking on His divine nature our sinful human nature, Jesus is able to bridge that gap and communicate with us. Although He has gone back to the heavens, He left something tangible for us with which to maintain communication with Him. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Yes, that word has power to change the lives of all who are willing to submit themselves fully to Him through it. The Creator speaks and it happens. What a truly awesome God we serve!


What is the best way to honor this Being Who became “God with us”? “Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” (James 2:7). How do we not blaspheme that name? How do we avoid that as sinful human being? We need His Divine presence to change our natures. “God sends you into the world as His representative. In every act of life you are to make manifest the name of God. This petition calls upon you to possess His character. You cannot hallow His name, you cannot represent Him to the world, unless in life and character you represent the very life and character of God. This you can do only through the acceptance of the grace and righteousness of Christ.” 11

As we ponder this third commandment, have you accepted Jesus as the Word of God into your life? Have you surrendered to Him fully so that He can justify you by His righteousness and change your nature so that you can reverence His holy name?

1 Sermons and Talks, vol. 2, p. 185.
2 The Adventist Home, p. 439.
3 Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 201.
4 Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4b, p. 43.
5 Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 306, 307.
6 Education, p. 243.
7 Early Writings, p. 70.
8 Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, pp. 496, 497.
9 Sermons and Talks, vol. 2, p. 185.
10 Evangelism, p. 133.
11 Thoughts From the Mount of Blessings, p. 107.